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Breaking Through

In every market—good, bad or indifferent—there are companies and products that manage, in spite of the odds, to deliver something new

November 1, 2012 By John R. Quain

In every market—good, bad or indifferent—there are companies and products that manage, in spite of the odds, to deliver something new that changes either the way we think about entertainment, or the way the competition thinks about particular products.

Here are five innovators and their products, which over the past year have either disrupted an established market, or added new wrinkles and products that capture the imagination of consumers.

Roku
Founded by DVR pioneer Anthony Wood, Roku was once a curiosity: a tiny company that made a tiny box that displayed Internet video on a TV. Today, the company’s devices are mainstream products, inspiring a fleet of competing streaming media players (not to mention TVs with smart services) and the whole cut-the-cable movement.

This year, Roku received its biggest vote of confidence yet with a $45 million investment from content providers led by News Corp. and British Sky Broadcasting. Wood says the investment exceeds the total garnered by the company in all previous years. The financial interest, though, is most remarkable not for the dollar amount, but for who the investors were: Content providers, including the owner of the Fox channels, which were once seen as competitors—if not enemies—of the streaming model being pushed by Roku.

To get to this point, Roku has been supplying easy-to-install boxes that now offer more than 500 channels of entertainment, including popular services like Netflix, Hulu Plus and Epix, and offbeat channels featuring everything from gun maintenance to pet care. This season, Roku hopes to make its products even more appealing by making them simpler still. The Roku Stick ($99) is no bigger than a flash drive, and plugs directly into a set’s MHL or Mobile High-definition Link. Only a few sets from Samsung and Insignia currently have MHL ports, but more models are expected in the coming year.
 
Lytro Camera
In a world where smart phones have built-in, 13-megapixel cameras and record HD video, the point-and-shoot digital camera space was all but abandoned by companies witnessing dwindling consumer interest. Then along came Lytro.

Using a technology once limited to expensive specialized photographic equipment that required the processing power of a supercomputer, Ren Ng and his team managed to create a light-field camera for consumers priced at just $399 (for the 8 GB model). Instead of focusing light from a single point like a traditional camera, light-field cameras record light from all directions. While it may not sound innovative, it results in a revolutionary concept in photography: the ability to refocus a shot after it was taken.

 

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